A SENATE inquiry is holding public hearings this week dealing with a same-sex marriage bill that could be introduced to parliament with voter approval.

The government has been urged to scrap a proposed exemption that would allow religious and secular marriage celebrants to refuse to officiate same-sex weddings.

Peak bodies for the legal profession and civil marriage celebrants told the inquiry on Monday there is no need to include the controversial exemptions in draft laws.

The Law Council argued the proposed exemption would discriminate against same-sex, trans and intersex couples “without any proper basis”.

Vice-chair of The Coalition of Celebrant Associations Liz Pforr said celebrants already can and do refuse to marry couples for various reasons, often by simply claiming to be unavailable.

“Our objection is that it is just same-sex couples that are being targeted with this bill,” Pforr told the hearing.

A recent survey by the group, which represents almost all of Australia’s civil celebrants, found 80% would be happy to marry same-sex couples. Just over 10% would “discreetly refuse”, while 3% would resign if forced by law to perform same-sex marriages.

Margaret Mayman, an openly gay Sydney minister, said there is no reason to legislate reasons to refuse a marriage. She gave an example of having refused to marry a couple where ongoing abuse was occurring, a decision already allowed by existing religious freedoms.

“We do not support extending exemptions beyond religious officiants,” said Reverend Mayman.

On the other side of the debate, conservative legal group The Wilberforce Foundation wants even broader exemptions. The group believes anyone should be allowed to refuse any goods and services to same-sex couples based on “conscience” and not just religion.

This week’s Senate enquiry follows the scrapping of the government’s proposed plebiscite. It is dealing with details of the proposed same-sex marriage bill without re-examining the debate over same-sex marriage itself.

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